July 18, 2014Bill White FROM THE ROOMS TO THE STREETS


Until recently, recovery from addiction was shrouded in public secrecy in the United States and in most other countries. Addiction has long been viewed as a personally and culturally intractable problem, and pessimism has reigned about the prospects of long-term addiction recovery. These perceptions have been fed by the unrelenting public visibility of addiction-related problems, but the comparable invisibility of stable, long-term addiction recovery. Historically, most people in recovery either completely eschewed recovery status (refused the addiction and recovery labels and culturally “passed”) or regularly cloistered themselves in “the rooms” of recovery mutual aid meetings before repeatedly and invisibly re-entering their civilian roles without acknowledgement of their recovery status. Such invisibility protected those in recovery from the potential stigma attached to addiction, but at a cultural level, it also left unchallenged a host of myths and caricatured images about addiction and addiction recovery. It is of great historical import that this state of affairs is changing.
People in recovery across the spectrum of secular, spiritual, and religious pathways of recovery are coming together for common cause in new and renewed grassroots recovery community organizations that make up the foundation of the new recovery advocacy movement. Those whose life circumstances allow and who are temperamentally suited for such a role are stepping forward to announce their cultural presence as people in long-term addiction recovery. Avoiding the pitfalls of stepping forward in isolation, they are amassing by the thousands to declare their status as “a people” with shared histories, needs, aspirations and potential contributions.
Recovery advocates are awakening as agents of change in local communities–forging visible space in which people seeking and in recovery can thrive in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and support. They are founding and staffing new recovery support institutions–recovery community centers, recovery residences, recovery schools, recovery industries, recovery cafes, and recovery sports venues. And they are creating recovery-themed literature, music, theatre, film and sports projects. An increasingly visible culture of recovery is flourishing in the U.S. that is distinguished by its singleness of purpose (Recovery by any means necessary under any circumstances.), its ecumenical character (There are many paths to recovery–and all are cause for celebration.), and its belief that recovery can spring from hope as well as pain (Recovery is contagious and can be transmitted by visible recovery carriers).
The phrase “the streets” has long been a metaphor for the space in which addiction flourishes; “the streets” have now become places where recovery is finding its niche in community after community. If we as a country were really serious about addressing addiction, we would infuse recovery carriers within the very physical spaces in which addiction is growing exponentially. That is what is happening under the direction of an army of people in recovery. “Paying it forward” (PIA) has long been part of the service ethic of communities of recovery–long before the PIA phrase was popularized. What is changing is that whole communities are becoming the recipients of these payments. To those on the frontlines of this movement to extend recovery from the rooms to the streets, you are my heroes.